Do Pacifiers and Thumb Sucking Lead To Permanent Damage?

Child using a pacifier

Pacifiers and thumb sucking can help your child feel happy and safe as they grow from infancy into toddlerhood. Many parents often have concerns about thumb sucking, pacifier use and how it will affect their child’s teeth.


While it can certainly be a problem after a certain point, most toddlers will be successful in giving up their comfort item on their own by age four.


Positive Effects of Pacifiers

There are many benefits of a baby using a pacifier. Aside from soothing a baby and reducing crying, there are other reasons why many parents choose to have their baby take a pacifier:


Reduces the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)


The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages the use of pacifiers while an infant is sleeping either during a nap or at bedtime to help reduce the risk of SIDS.


Encourages Breastfeeding


Studies have shown that mothers at high risk for postpartum depression were more successful with breastfeeding if their baby also took a pacifier. Minimizing infant crying is vital to vulnerable mothers who are easily agitated due to the natural adjustment period of becoming a parent.




The use of a pacifier allows for an infant to self-soothe rather than having to be fed in order to reduce crying or colic. Pacifier use offers emotional support for both a new mother as well as for the infant.


Long-Term Negative Effects of Pacifiers

Long-term pacifier use can affect the shape of an infant’s developing teeth and mouth, especially if a child continues to use it well into the toddler years. A child’s jaw and gum tissue are very malleable, and the constant use of a pacifier after the age of 2, but especially after the age of 4, can create dental problems including overbite or crossbite.

The Effects of Thumb Sucking

It is incredibly common for babies and children to suck on their thumbs or fingers as a natural way to feel comforted. This natural reflex can lead to damage to their teeth and structure of the mouth if it is carried on for too long. Children tend to wean themselves around the age of three naturally, but if the sucking continues past age five, you may need to assist in breaking the habit.


Positive Effects of Thumb or Finger Sucking


Thumb or finger sucking often helps babies calm themselves and also enables them to fall asleep more easily. If you have a preschool-age child or a child younger than 4, you likely do not need to worry about the long-term effects from thumb or finger sucking.


Negative Effects of Thumb or Finger Sucking


Long-term adverse effects of thumb or finger sucking past the age of five years old often include:


  • Teeth being pushed around by fingers that lead to an overbite or underbite
  • A lisp because of the sucking effects on the position of the jaw bone
  • Germs often found on the hands being introduced continuously into the body
  • The roof of the mouth being altered or more sensitive


When to Wean Off Pacifiers

For ideal dental development, it is best to eliminate pacifier use by the age of two. For a smoother transition, most experts agree that starting to wean off of pacifiers by one year, or even earlier, makes for the best transition. At this point, a child should be sleeping through the night, and this age demographic allows for you to go cold turkey for quitting without much pushback.


If need tips for when and how to take the pacifier away, read these helpful pacifier weaning tips.


Strategies For Thumb Suckers

Approximately 30% of children under the age of five suck their thumbs, other fingers, or use pacifiers. Here are some helpful tips on how you can help your child to stop sucking their thumb if they do not naturally wean themselves:


  • Do not use punishment as a form of kicking the habit. This will create stress and encourage more frequent thumb sucking
  • Teach your child the reasons why they cannot continue to suck their thumbs in detail
  • Eliminate sources of stress that trigger thumb sucking during your transition
  • Use distraction when you see your child begin to suck their thumb
  • Cover hands with socks or gloves while they sleep at night when thumb sucking naturally occurs
  • Coat pacifiers or thumbs in a bitter-tasting medication to help them lose interest


Still Have Concerns? We Can Help!


If you’re worried about your child’s pacifier use or thumb sucking habit, talk to Cherrywood Dental Associates at your next appointment. We can help to answer any questions you may have and help you come up with a strategy to help protect your child’s dental development.



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